CHARLESTON — After two years of double-digit growth fueled by natural gas pipeline construction, the value of property owned by public utilities in West Virginia grew by just 0.7% in the past year, an annual assessment by the state Tax Division shows.
The state Board of Public Works gave tentative approval to the $12.64 billion valuation, pending a public hearing to be scheduled later this year to hear any appeals of the valuations.
The marginal growth in valuations, totaling approximately $91.6 million, follows a year when property values jumped 12%, as the value of natural gas pipelines in the state grew from $2.4 billion to $3.397 billion in a single year, according to Tax Division reports.
That provided an extra $30 million in property tax collection, distributed to public school systems, counties and municipalities.
For the current tax year, the value of pipelines in West Virginia increased to $3.63 billion, representing less than 7% growth, as pipeline construction projects were either completed or were halted by litigation.
Once the most powerful body in West Virginia government, with duties that included setting the annual state budget, the Board of Public Works — made up of the six elected officers and the superintendent of schools — lost most of its powers when the Modern Budget Amendment was adopted in 1968. One of the board’s most important remaining responsibilities is the annual approval of Tax Division assessments of property owned by public utilities.
Under state law, utilities are broadly defined to include railroads, airlines and bus companies, telephone and cellphone providers, along with traditional utilities, including electric, natural gas, and water and sewer companies.
While natural gas pipelines increased in value, a number of utilities saw their property values decrease, including landline telephone companies. West Virginia also assesses property taxes on rail cars that pass through the state, a valuation that dropped nearly 9% in the past year with a decline in coal traffic and a drop in freight traffic nationally.
Another duty the board retains is the approval of property transfers between public agencies. Notably, the board approved the transfer of three parcels of property on the former West Virginia University Tech campus in Montgomery from the West Virginia University Board of Governors to the West Virginia National Guard, which will establish a second Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy for at-risk teens on the property.
While most intergovernmental property transfers have reverter clauses, which return the property to the original owner in the event it no longer is used for the intended purpose, WVU opted to waive the reverter clause on the properties. That means if the National Guard ceases operations of the ChalleNGe Academy, the buildings and grounds will become property of the city of Montgomery.